In almost every health study I see, women seem to be healthier than men when compared side by side. Take the UK Governments Health Survey for England. This measures the health of the population from 1993 to 2010 – a good set of data from a reliable source across 17 years. The key findings are:
• High blood pressure – 32% of men, 29% of women.
• Overweight – 42% of men, 32% of women.
• Cigarette smoking – 22% of men currently smoke, 18% of women.
• Alcohol – Drinking more than twice the recommended amount – 23% of men, 14% of women.
• Fruit and Vegetable consumption – Eating more than five portions a day – 28% of men, 32% of women.
In fact, if you read the full report, women come out on top in almost all measures. This isn’t just limited to the UK, the US centre for disease control made the same conclusions in a study in 2007. I have searched for an answer on why women should be healthier than men, but can find only vague suggestions such as:
• Women are more concerned with their body shape / Men care less about what they look like.
• Women wear more figure hugging clothes so have to stay slim.
• Men in general have more stressful jobs.
The point about stress leads me to recall work performed on ego-depletion by Matt Field. He discovered that self-control is a limited resource. Effectively, if you do something which requires willpower, such as hide your true emotions over a period of time, you will need to then replace the energy taken to do this. A key study showed that people who had been told to hold back emotion when faced with a gruesome film would then drink 50% more beer afterwards than those who did not.
This seems like a possible reason for the difference between men and women, men do seem to hide and control their emotions more than women and the ego-depletion study would assume that men would then go on to binge in some form to compensate, be it on alcohol, cigarettes, fatty food or something else.
Evidence from the American Psychological Association actually shows that women are more likely to report stress than men, which at first seems to counter the argument above, however, if men are hiding their stress they may be trying to deal with it themselves through binging and are therefore less healthy in the measures above.
I must admit that I still don’t know the answer and this is just my hypothesis, so this is my weekend question for you: Why are women healthier than men?